India's human rights record is currently being reviewed at the United Nations in Geneva

A massive peer review of India's human rights records by the United Nations is underway in Geneva today, where 87 countries have signed up for asking questions to India's government representatives.

“It remains to be seen whether the government officials stick to their defensive position or shift to a more engaging and fruitful dialogue with the UN and global participants,” said Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) Miloon Kothari from Geneva.

The first such peer review or Universal Periodic Review (UPR) had taken place in 2008 with the Indian government agreeing to work on 18 recommendations. Several of those promises remain unfulfilled including ratification of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), signature and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

The lack of urgency on the part of the government to pass a law against torture is worrying, said advocate Vrinda Grover. “Torture is routinely used as an investigating practice and for law enforcement across India. Its use is particularly systematic and brutal in conflict areas. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence as well as the use of lethal force in dispersing largely peaceful protests, remain entrenched in these areas,” she said.

During the first review, India had agreed to maintain disaggregated data on caste and related discrimination, but there is still a lack of such data on crimes committed against SC and ST women; position of employment in the private sector and entrepreneurship; and access to health and civic amenities, according to the WGHR.

Regarding crimes against SCs and STs, the existing data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not reveal the true nature and extent of violence as many crimes against SCs don't fall under the NCRB's official category of ‘crimes against SCs'. For example, there is no official disaggregated data on custodial violence, illegal detention, torture, violence against women other than rape, bonded labour, child labour, manual scavenging, said the working group.

Asha Kotwal, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch pointed out that the presence of a caste-based discriminatory mindset is a major problem affecting the implementation of most of the measures.

The conviction rate under the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 seeking to prevent atrocities against the communities continues to be very low, providing no deterrence for crimes. Though there is in place a policy of empowering Dalits and adivasis through targeted budgetary allocations, the Central government and respective State governments have failed to implement it. During the last five years, the Centre has denied the two marginalised communities $ 28.57 billion entitled to them through budgetary allocations. According to Ms. Kotwal, “Unless the Indian government initiates an intense campaign for equality and urgent steps in addressing this mindset, Dalits and adivasis – especially the women and girls among them – will continue to be exposed to extreme forms of violence and be excluded from access to development.

Speaking from Geneva, Ms. Grover said that the UPR was not a confrontational process but one where everybody would be engaging in a constructive manner. Apart from issues regarding violence against women and LGBT rights, discussions around the gaps in laws are expected to be taken up. “The government says there are excellent laws and policies in place, but what is the tracking mechanism for all vulnerable constituencies including women, Dalits, disabled and other minorities?” Discussions around the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law for protection of religious minorities and accountability of public servants during communal violence are also expected to take place.

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